Here's what we had for dinner this Tuesday. I had gotten a crown put on that afternoon, so my face was numb up into the scalp, and I really didn't want to make any effort to cook whatever. John got home later than usual after a send-off for a departing colleague. And yet we sat down to eat full, satisfying plates filled with four different dishes after maybe twenty minutes total in the kitchen. How? Through the magic of leftovers.
I made the kale salad and baked the cornbread on Monday night. The sweet potatoes were waiting in the freezer. The only things not actively left over were our sausages--chicken and sun-dried tomato for me, vegetarian andouille for John--and mine were in the freezer for long-term consumption nonetheless.
We had an excellent dinner, and you can too.
I made these mashed sweet potatoes mirepoix for Thanksgiving and froze them for an occasion just like this. To warm them up, I popped them out of their container in one big frozen brick, deposited them in a saucepan with a splash of water, added a lid, and put the pan over medium-high heat. After fifteen minutes, everything was entirely hot. I took the lid off the pot, lowered the heat, and let the extra liquid steam off before serving. Zero effort; 100% flavor.
The kale salad was super simple: raw kale massaged with vinaigrette. The dressing was just olive oil, chive blossom vinegar, dijon mustard, and a few grinds of salt and pepper. Since I'd dressed the salad the night before, I didn't need to do anything to the greens but pile them on the plate.
That's right! Raw kale salads do not suffer when kept overnight in their dressing. I don't know about you, but I basically had my jaw on the floor when I realized this. Leftover salad that isn't a mass of sad brown goo! How could this be? We've eaten WAY more winter salad since then, which should come as no surprise.
So I chopped up the almonds for last-minute garnish, and that was it. Beautiful, delicious salad!
The cornbread was actually a double shot of food preservation goodness. It was left over from the night before, yes, but guess where the jalapenos came from? That's right--I used the last of a jar of my pickled garden jalapenos. Hooray! I threw a couple pieces in the toaster oven to warm through before serving, and that was it.
All I actually had to cook were our sausages, which were easy enough. Defrost in hot water, slice, brown on both sides in separate frying pans, and serve. Five minutes on the heat and they were done.
And that's how we were able to finish our dinners and be ready to relax by 7 pm on a weeknight.
Using leftovers: a tiny guide
- It's clearly a good idea to make enough of certain dishes to just eat them again the next day. Baked goods, casseroles, a whole roast: you can just eat these with minimal effort. This is a particularly good plan if you pack a lunch for work.
- If you can freeze your leftovers, do it! That way you'll have an emergency backup, but you won't get sick of a particular dish after eating it three days in a row. Soup, tomato sauce, and beans work really well in the freezer.
- Simple reheating methods keep food tasting fresh and delicious. Avoid the microwave unless you're heating something like soup, with no texture issue to consider. Stovetop or toaster oven reheats are well worth the minimal effort.
- If your leftovers are supposed to be eaten cold, that's all the better. Things like grain salads are a good idea here.
- Minor bits of garnish can go a long way toward making leftover dishes seem brand-new. Nuts, ground pepper, snipped herbs, hot sauce, yogurt--anything that sounds good to you can work.
- And, although this doesn't apply in this particular story, you can always repurpose leftover components into entirely new dishes. Precooked rice, vegetables, beans, or meat are all super useful when you're trying to assemble a salad, burrito, or omelet in no time flat.
How do you use your leftovers? What other tips and tricks work well for you?